Work/Life Balance Tips When You Have ADHD

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Is there even such a thing as work/life balance? That’s the first question that came to my mind when I thought of this topic — especially as someone living with adult ADHD. I’m about 97 percent self-employed and 3 percent employed by a respite care provider, where I spend three hours per week with a kiddo with autism and his family. Both of these roles come with a lot of flexibility — perhaps a bit too much with my ADHD.

If you’re also self-employed, it may be a bit more challenging to attain work/life balance. Often your home is your workspace, your hours may not be 9-to-5, and for some reason, working from home seems to mean people perceive you as being constantly available.

Many of these strategies below are flexible, which is why they work well if you have ADHD. You can “choose your own adventure” when trying them out, tweaking them to see how they work for you.

Make a list or use a planner

From my conversations with others with ADHD, many of us find planners or lists helpful. While those living with ADHD thrive on routine, I haven’t completely embraced this yet. I like my schedule of working when the creative vibes hit, and while I’ve tried, it’s hard for me to schedule writing time because then it feels like I’m forcing it.

The pressure of a deadline also helps me. You may find it helpful to set time for certain tasks, like email, a walk, or an interruption to stand up every hour. Routine isn’t my thing, but I do use a bullet journal. Many people with ADHD have struggled with traditional planners, and I vowed I’d never go back to paper, but the bullet journal system works for me because it’s a clean slate. I always set up a monthly spreadsheet with the tasks I need to have done in a month (usually writing projects), but I’m much less dedicated to doing a weekly page or spreadsheet every week.

Because a bullet journal is usually a blank notebook, there’s very little guilt involved that us with ADHD are prone to if we skip a week. I also use Google Calendar in tandem with my bullet journal for certain things.

Note: My bullet journal setup is nowhere near as elaborate as many online ones are. If you go this route, don’t get distracted by pretty ones on Instagram or Google Images. Resist!

Coping with email overload

I used to try to tackle my emails first thing in the morning each day. This may be a useful strategy for you, or you may prefer to get “actual work” done before getting distracted by your inbox for the first two hours of the day.

Either way, schedule a set amount of time to deal with emails, prioritize them, and once time is up, try not to look back until your next scheduled email check. Think of email like a phone call with a colleague — you schedule time for it so it doesn’t take more time than it needs to.

Email is just the same: a conversation. Schedule time for those conversations, by phone or electronically, otherwise you can get overwhelmed. Fix up your smartphone email notifications and what gets sent to any connected watches. (As I wrote this, I muted an email from a certain sender on my Apple Watch instead of just dismissing it as I’d kept doing previously!) Also, try to note down information from emails you may need later elsewhere, so you aren’t tempted to open your inbox.

Track your productivity

Your process for this will vary, but if you can look at something and see at the end of the day how you’ve done, it’s easier to feel like you’ve accomplished — and want to accomplish — tasks. Seeing what you’ve checked off of your to-do list, what you’ve moved from apps like Trello or Slack, or which electronic calendar check boxes are now grayed out can be rewarding in itself and help keep you on track with your daily tasks.

In addition to coloring in completed tasks in my bullet journal boxes, I also use Qbserve to track my productive/nonproductive computer time. With this technology, I can see how much time I spent in Evernote in a day, week, or month, and gauge how long work actually takes me to do.

Additional strategies for the self-employed person with ADHD

Depending on your job, some of these may also apply in certain traditional employment scenarios, such as if you’re on call 24/7 or are an owner or manager of a business.

Take vacations and truly don’t work

Because your home is your office and your office is your home, you really can never escape work. Sometimes you physically have to leave your space to reset and not work at all. As a Canadian who lives close to the U.S. border, I frequently travel to the United States whether for pleasure or work conferences.

Many of my clients are U.S. based, and I don’t have an American work permit, so when I travel to the United States, I leave everything to do with work back in Canada. While I don’t use an email auto-responder, I do simply reply to clients that I’m out of the country and can’t work, and will get back to them when I’m home. And when I’m home, I’m recharged and more excited to write, and I’ve usually acquired a few ideas on the road, too.

Have a dedicated workspace

I’ll admit it: I have a home office in my basement, but I still prefer to work at my kitchen table. It’s much brighter up here, and it’s not freezing cold like my basement office is in the winter. But I do find that I am more productive in my office. There are fewer distractions (aka food and delivery of my mail).

Work the hours that make sense

A perk of self-employment is choosing your hours. I tend to work best later in the day, and sometimes can be found starting my work day at 8 p.m. and going until midnight. Today, for example, I started working at 9:30 a.m., because I know I have to leave home by 1:30 p.m. for afternoon meetings. I’ll probably begin working again at 8 or 9 p.m. if I have the energy, and wrap it up around midnight. This is my crunch-time schedule — but it also maximizes on times when my house is quieter.

Designate work/nonwork days

I actually take two different strengths of ADHD medication, one on work days and a lower dose on nonwork days — the “weekends” I set aside for myself — to potentially avoid building tolerance to the meds. While I can work on lower strength, it makes me consciously decide early in the day to take a purposeful day off.

Find a strategy that works for you to take a day off or two per week to recharge. Bonus points if you schedule something fun to do on these days to ensure you step back! I started freelancing much by accident when I was still a full-time student, working part-time at a daycare center, and coaching a team. It’s very possible if you are a freelancer with ADHD like me, you’re also juggling several other roles.

Even though I’m primarily self-employed now, other things keep me structured, even if not in a daily routine. I coach two teams from October to April or May, see my respite client Monday or Wednesday, practice archery on Thursdays, and once a month or so also get to throw in a board meeting. Oh, and next week I’m restarting mentoring kids with asthma an hour a week. Travel also helps add structure by blocking out days I’m available or unavailable to work.

Making it work

Simply put, balancing any type of employment with being able to enjoy yourself outside of work is a choice that you have to consciously make. It’s not easy, and you will slip from time to time — whether that is by overworking or racing to meet a deadline. But you can have more frequent and less stressful work cycles (whether that’s a week or a month!) by implementing strategies that keep you on track at work and at home.

ADHD-US-NP-00008 MAY 2018